British Columbia·Point of View

Free college tuition: would Barack Obama's proposal work in B.C.?

As U.S. President Barack Obama proposes offering the first two years of community college for free, our Political Insiders discuss the pros and cons of waiving tuition fees.

Political insiders Moe Sihota and Colin Hansen debate the merits of free tuition in B.C.

A view of Vancouver's UBC campus. According to the Canadian Federation of Students, the average student graduates with $35,000 of debt. (UBC)

U.S. President Barack Obama has proposed offering the first two years of community college for free, an idea that could resonate with students here in British Columbia.

Tuition fees have increased 63 per cent since the B.C. Liberals came into power in 2001, leaving the average student with $35,000 of debt, according to the Canadian Federation of Students.

So should B.C. start looking at waiving tuition fees? We asked The Early Edition's Political Insiders, Moe Sihota and Colin Hansen, to discuss the pros and cons of free college tuition.

Moe Sihota: free tuition is good public policy

"Jobs go where the most skilled and trained workers are. We have a labour shortage in this country, we have a skills shortage in this province," said Moe Sihota, a former cabinet minister for the B.C. NDP.

"If you provide good, skilled, trained workers then companies invest in those jurisdictions because that's where the workers are. Jobs come if you train people. They don't come if others train people."

"The reality is that we have among the worst participation rates in post-secondary education. If it's so good, why is it so bad? Why aren't people jumping into the post-secondary education system?

"It's because the supports that are required aren't there. There isn't hope. There's no focus on dealing with income inequality."

​Colin Hansen: training should be targeted

"Maybe we should be more targeted, which we're doing with trades training," said Colin Hansen, a former cabinet minister with the B.C. Liberals.

"We're putting lots of money into trades training in British Columbia — because we're going to need that in the future — rather than just a wholesale, 'Come and take whatever course you like and somehow the taxpayer is going to pay for it.'"

"Any student today in post-secondary education, their tuition is a small percentage of the cost of their education. It's less than half of what the cost of their education is.

"The taxpayer is already paying a significant amount of that education, and for some students, in areas of worker shortage, we're paying all of their student loans through forgiveness programs after they graduate if they stay in British Columbia and they work in those professions."

The Political Insiders can be heard on CBC Radio's The Early Edition every Monday at 7:40 a.m. PT in Vancouver.

To hear the full debate on free college education in B.C., click the audio labelled: Political Insiders on free post-secondary.


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